Leave it to California water regulators to place a distant second to the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the “being reasonable” category.

Sept. 2 marks the date when state contractors will need to start meeting the new stormwater requirements for construction sites. These new regulations are complex and it would take a narrative 10 times as long as this blog to explain them. They are also costly, not counting the training and testing: Marjorie Boone, president/CEO of Ehs International, says failure to comply with the new stormwater permit rules are subject to penalties of up to $10,000 per violation and to civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation if referred to the attorney general. (If you are new to this issue and would like to experience your head exploding, go here.)

Needless to say, even with advance warning, certification training for handling these new rules is going slow and industry groups, including the AGC and Construction Industry Coalition on Water Quality (CICWQ), are urging the state to back off a year. As to that decision, no response so far from the state Water Resources Control Board, which is overseeing this circus.

Then surprisingly, the EPA last week backed off its proposal to revise the numeric turbidity limits on stormwater discharges because the science was called in question. Yes, it delayed a regulation. Go figure. In addition, the original EPA proposal would have had a Numeric Effluent Limit of 280 on the turbidity scale – even lower than California’s 500 NEL requirements.

So, what’s in store for contractors? In a nutshell, provided by Bill Davis of the Southern California Contractors Association:
  • All existing projects must be reevaluated as to their risk level as the grandfathering clause in the Construction General Permit (CGP) will expire on Sept. 2;
  • You will have to have a Qualified Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan Practitioner (QSP) in your employ, either staff or consultant, to be responsible for SWPPPs on each existing site;
  • Any new project will have to have a Qualified Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan Developer (QSD) prepare the new SWPPP for the project as well as a QSP;
  • If it rains more than a half-inch, your QSP will have to take samples of any runoff from your Level 2 or 3 sites and report the results to a public database. If it is a Caltrans project, as little as 1/10th inch of rain can trigger sampling; and,
  • Environmental activists can use any violation as grounds for a civil suit. The state Water Resources Control Board can fine you up to $10,000 per day and $10 a gallon for any runoff in excess of 1,000 gallons, all based on your self-reporting, so you are defenseless.
Davis adds that to further complicate matters, there are fewer than 600 QSPs in the state to manage more than 6,000 construction sites.

“Nobody seems to know how many are certified for sure, so many projects will be in technical violation as the sun rises Sept. 2,” he says.

Ehs’ Boone, as a board member of AGC in Los Angeles, worked with the association to offer QSP and QSD training courses, which are ongoing, and she says she agrees that there’s no way of knowing exactly how many qualified stormwater developers and practitioners are currently available.